Hello Hanoi!

Trip Start May 05, 2011
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Trip End Aug 27, 2011


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Where I stayed

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, June 3, 2011

8:23am - Friday, June 3 Good morning all! We made it to Vietnam safe and sound and here's what we've been doing so far!

***WEDNESDAY***

In the morning we decided to ask the receptionist at our hostel for a recommendation for a place to have breakfast/lunch.  She said that there's actually a really popular dim sum place right nearby (pointed to it out the window).  The hostel had a small stack of menus from there and she walked us through what the menu was like and picked some of her favourites so that we would know what we were ordering.  Food roulette is fun, but sometimes it's nice to know what's good at a restaurant and have someone guide your decisions a little.  It took a few insistences to convince her we like everything.  Chicken feet?  Yes.  Durian?  Yes.  Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie!  She wrote out a list of 12 items (the 12th being the type of tea we wanted: chamomile) and we set off.

We could tell the place was popular because we could hear the din of happy diners upstairs.  We waited for our number to be called and then followed our server up to our table.  The dining room was huge and full of large round tables with families sitting eating and chatting and little kids running around making noise (think of Cora's on a Sunday morning but with larger tables and more space between them).  Our server escorted us around a corner (past the tanks with live sea creatures...including two massive sea turtles O_o) to a nice large booth which blocked out the sounds of chaos a little.  When presented with the menu, we simply handed over our hand-written list and the server spent a little time checking things off the menu from it.  There were a few things they didn't have, so we picked two different dishes at random.  What followed was an orgy of several tasty plates all arriving whenever they'd finished being made.  It was the perfect way to end our stay in China!  There were so many little plates, it would take up too much space in the blog so please have a look at the pictures...we'll provide explanations for everything.  ;)

When we got back to the hostel, we still had plenty of time before our train.  Not enough time that we were comfortable going out and doing something, but enough that we had time to relax and digest our massive brunch.  Thankfully we double checked our train tickets and discovered that the train actually leaves at 6:45...not 5:30 like we'd thought.  Looks like the interwebz need updating.  We watched Kick Ass until the scratches on the disc made it unplayable about halfway through...so we watched about a third of True Grit after that.  We left the hostel at about 5:15 and took the bus to the train station (super crowded, yay rush hour!).  Andrew and I grabbed some snacks for the trip and waited in the departure area for our train.  There was a line already so we joined it and didn't have to wait too long.

There was a bit of a mixup on the train.  We got on and two girls were in our bunks.  We showed an employee our tickets and he took off with them to sort it out.  After a while, he came back and pointed to another section's top bunks, indicating we could sleep there.  Ha, I don't think so.  You see, the bottom bunks are the most expensive, the middle bunks are slightly cheaper and the top bunks are the cheapest.  We *paid* for a middle bunk, and we were going to be bumped down to a top bunk?  No way.  Either refund the difference or give us what we paid for.  There were tons of empty beds (later confirmed for sure once the train started moving) so, after a little polite insistence, they gave us middle bunks in another section.  -_-

The train ride was mostly uneventful.  We met a couple from Germany who were staying on the bottom bunks underneath us.  They'd come via the Trans Siberian railway and made their way south from the north end of China.  We stopped at the Chinese border around 10:30 to fill out our departure cards and have them scrutinized with our passports.  Unlike what we'd read on the internet, we didn't have to disembark and get our bags scanned.  The train moved on and we stopped at the Vietnamese border check-in at around midnight.  This time we got off the train to have our visas double checked and our passports stamped for entry.  The train didn't get moving again until around 12:30am; we brushed our teeth and went to bed.

***THURSDAY***

We were woken at about 4am by the lights going on and the general bustling sounds of people waking up and getting their bags together.  We arrived in Hanoi at 4:30am and we got our stuff together and headed out.  It was a much different train station compared to the ones we'd been to in China.  It was much smaller and a bit more run down...but this is not Hanoi's main train station and is about 6km from the city center (out by the airport).  We were originally thinking of catching a cab with the German couple we'd met, but their hostel was much further than ours and none of the cabs would have been large enough to take our whole group anyway.  We split up and said our goodbyes.

Andrew and I went to get our own taxi...not hard, really, since we were mobbed by taxi drivers as soon as we left the station.  But we couldn't get in one right away anyway, because we didn't have any local currency yet (quick stop at an ATM just outside sorted that out).  The taxi driver we started dealing with wanted to haggle.  From everything I've read, this is a *bad* idea unless you're confident in what the price range should be.  We weren't, so we insisted he use the meter.  He kept saying no, so we simply walked away.  As soon as it was clear to him that we fully intended to simply walk around in the semi-dark of early morning to find another cab, he called after us and indicated that he would use the meter.  We still got a little ripped off in the end (gave back the wrong change; short about 50,000 dong...only $2.50 Canadian, though).  Whatever.  It was really freaking early in the morning and we'd gotten almost no sleep, lol.

We crossed the street to our hostel and the doors were...locked.  Awesome.  Did I mention that, I kind've have to pee?  We put our bags on the steps and sat around wondering what to do next.  You see, we always make sure to choose hostels (hostelbookers.com) that have 24 hour reception and no curfew.  This place had advertised as such...and yet here we are sitting on the steps in the wee hours of Hanoi, Vietnam.  Thankfully, someone came to unlock the doors after we'd been waiting for around 15-20 minutes.  We checked in, got a key and made the looooong climb up to our room.  They keychain said "Rm. 403" and usually means the fourth floor, right?  Wrong.  Each 1/2 flight of stairs had a room on the landing.  So up a flight with a room.  Up another flight, and a room.  So each flight of stairs we climbed read: "Rm. 101", "Rm. 102", "Rm. 103", "Rm. 201", "Rm. 202", etc. all the way up to "Rm. 403".  We were tempted to make base camp and make for the summit sometime in the afternoon but the promise of an air conditioned room go back to sleep in pushed us up those bloody stairs.  We got in the room, tossed our bags in a corner, turned on the air conditioner and fan, closed the window and went to sleep around 6am.

***THURSDAY - PART 2***

We got up around 10am, had showers, got dressed and started unpacking.  Once we had finished, it was getting close to 1pm and we realized that we were just about in the hottest time of the day.  We decided to do some internetting to pass the time and wait it out.  It was already really damned hot when we arrived at 4:30am...we didn't feel up to wandering away from our lovely air conditioning just yet.  We waited around until 3pm to venture out.

It was very hot and very humid, but still manageable.  We decided first to head in the direction of the Foreign languages bookstore.  After about two hours of frustration, we gave up trying to find it.  I'm starting to get really frustrated using maps with mostly unmarked streets (Lonely Planet) and I think tomorrow we'll have to buck up and buy a proper damned map.  After the failure of finding the bookstore, we were hot and grumpy so we stopped for some beer  (excerpt from Wikitravel: "Bia Hoi (fresh beer) establishments which are invariably situated on the corners of many of Hanoi's 'Old Quarter' streets. This preservative-free light beer is the perfect drink to sip as you watch the city's frenetic life bustle by.").  That lightened our spirits a bit so we started keeping an eye out for some place to eat...suspecting we were feeling hangry (angry...or generally in a bad mood from feeling hungry).  We stopped for food at a little restaurant and dove right in.  It was *amazing*.  Bun Cha was what we ate.  Picture this:  A plate of soft rice vermicelli noodles (cold).  A huge plate of greens (shiso, lettuce, mint, and some other herbs that I don't recognise).  A bowl of sweetened warm fish sauce, with crunchy pickled vegetables (cucumbers and carrots).  They drop some super crunchy (abd screamingly hot) barbequed pork patties into the fish sauce, which warms it slightly.  Then, you dip, crunch, munch and dip.  Amazing.  Fresh.  Fragrant.  Crunchy.  Slurp-tastic.   And only $1.50.  Holy moly.

We were feeling LOADS better with some food in our bellies.  We also managed to figure out where the crap we were and so headed into the Old Quarter.  On the way, still feeling a little peckish, we grabbed some street food.  On a large section of sidewalk was a large table on wheels.  A *huge* selection of toppings were on display.  Green beans, stewed fried tofu, pork belly, pork leg slices… see the picture for a look.  It all looked so *good*.  So the woman packed some warm rice into a takeout container, and helped me choose a selection of toppings.  A little baggie of herbed broth and a plastic spoon into the bag, and we were off.  We walked down to the lake to eat it, enjoying the breeze and people-watching.    By the time we made it to Hoan Kiem Lake at the center of the Old Quarter, we figured we had a pretty good handle on Crossing the Street in Vietnam.  Unlike China where you have to dodge the cars/scooters/bikes, in Vietnam, *they* dodge *you*.  Well, most of the time.  You still want to maintain eye contact with oncoming traffic to be sure that they see you but, other than that, find a small gap in traffic and start walking.  Don't change your speed or direction and you'll be fine.  It's actually really only the cars that make crossing the street frustrating since you know they're not manoeuvrable and, therefore, you have to time crossing the street with passing cars.

Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular hangout for both locals and tourists.  Here's a little history insert for you: "Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come."  Interesting to note that there may still be big turtles in the lake (although they're only rarely seen).  The huge one in the pictures from the temple died in the 60's.

We walked the entire west side of the lake in a short while and I got a pastry from a dessert stand along the way.  We decided to go to the Ngoc Son Temple which extends out into the lake via a bridge.  It was SO nice once we stepped onto the bridge because of the beautiful, beautiful breeze.  Ah, so lovely.  We paid the 10,000 dong ($0.50) entry fee and went in.  It was a sweet little spot with stone walkways and beautiful flowering trees.  There was a small temple with an explanation in French which Andrew was able to translate for me.  The temple had a lot of people praying and it was small and intimate so we felt weird about taking pictures inside.  It was beautiful, though, with one major shrine in the center and two smaller ones to the right and left.  Lots of rich colours decorating the space and offerings of food, flowers and money in front of the statues.

Sitting down, we decided to eat one of the green oranges we bought.  Can you call it an orange, if it's not?  Tart and sweet and delicious in any case.  We just sat, enjoying the breeze and the view of the lake with the sun going down.  It was really, really lovely and peaceful.  Eventually, we decided it was time to get a move on and meander back to the hostel.  We stopped for another glass of Bia Hoi on the way but no food .  We had eaten so late, we were still pretty full.  On the way back, we managed to pass by our hostel (too much to look at!) and had to turn around and come back the way we'd come.

We went up to the room and watched some tv with the air conditioner turned on.  Gotta love satellite. ;)  We didn't end up staying up very late...still sleep deprived from too many train trips in a row and barely sleeping at all with the border crossing.  We're not sure what we'll do today, but we think we may start to plan our activities around being back in our hostel to wait out the hottest part of the day (roughly 1-3pm) and then go back out again afterwards.  We'll see what happens.  ;)

Andrew & Shannon
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Comments

Carly on

Shannon yur gonna weigh 200 lbs with all the beer ????

puddlejumpers
puddlejumpers on

Damn straight ;D Hehe...

siobhan on

My favourite entry yet, although I haven't been able to read them all. Love the philosophy and food in your travel talk :) Sleep tight and have a lovely time. (Lucky, lucky adventurers, you!!!!)

puddlejumpers
puddlejumpers on

Forgot to mention... we were standing by the ATM on some random street corner by the train station in Hanoi at 5am, still darkish outside, and there was a tree-lined courtyard behind the wall that the ATM was attached to. The cicaidas were loud enough that we had to SHOUT OVER THEM TO BE HEARD! Seriously. *SO* loud. :)

puddlejumpers
puddlejumpers on

Reminded me of the Sankmirks from "Flight of Dragons" (1982). O_o

Vanessa on

Hi Guys!
Quite the change in scenery & food!
More great pics & comments - THANKS!
Looking forward to your next post of travels in the North.
Keep Well,
LoL (Lots of Love),
d

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